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Catch the Wind In Your Sails

Updated: Sep 4, 2022

This spring-summer I have had the privilege of working alongside my colleague and teacher Judith Kleinman in working with the company of actor-musicians at London School of Musical Theatre. Through a series of workshops we introduce performing artists to the Alexander Technique: an embodied philosophy which, as Judith beautifully puts it, asks the question, "can it be easier?" The simple principles of the technique offer reliable, practical skills for being good under pressure. The practice demystifies "talent" into a learnable skill, enables anyone to unlearn patterns causing chronic pain, restriction or anxiety, and to develop practical strategies for regulating our mind, body and emotions as we meet the challenges and excitements of life on or off the stage.

Our work with the students this week centred around the breath. It's a subject dense-as-a-jungle with opinions and "rules", that give an impression that there is something to get "right" and that often we are getting it "wrong". Navigating all of this information, while trying their best to perform at their best can be a confusing world to navigate. The beauty of the Alexander Technique is its simplicity, and deeply empowering nature. It rests on the foundational principle of "Non-doing": that the coordination of our breath does itself when we don't interfere. In other words, we discover through the Alexander Technique that "trying hard" is a well-meaning form of self-sabotage. The Alexander Technique offers us embodied skills for practicing the courage to take a moment to connect with quiet and support, that restores the strength, expansive ease and fluid coordination of our breath.

"Catching the wind in your sails" is what the AT calls a "direction": a constructive thought that connects with your embodiment, allowing you to move through life inhabiting your centred and present self. It is the thought of a release into the sweep of a sail behind us, sweeping from under our feet to above the crown of our head. The sail is a structure that is moveable and has strength and structure. Bio-mechanically-speaking we can describe this as a release of the back-line of the body, which tends to tighten when we become stressed or anxious. As we allow this release "back into our back", we feel less backed into a corner. Our weight can drop to the ground, allowing excess tension to release. Our nervous system can receive the message of support, and as a result our emotional tone shifts from anxious to calm, confident and connected. We call this psychophysical unity ⏤ or more recently psycho-emoto-physical unity: the truth that our whole self ⏤ mind, body, emotions and environment are an integrated whole.

Read more about Judith Kleinman, including her newly-released book Finding Quiet Strength here.

Image: Looking out; a peaceful, open back in the lea of the wind; feet on the ground.

Image: A resting back ⏤ gathering strength, finding centre. Drawing by Judith Kleinman from Finding Quiet Strength.

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